Water pipes burst when they are exposed to temperatures of 20 degrees Fahrenheit or below, for 4 to 6 hours. The water in the pipes freezes and expands, exerting more pressure than the pipe can hold causing it to burst.
Water in your pipes starts to freeze at around 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius). In order for the water pipes to burst, the temperature needs to be at around 20 degrees Fahrenheit (-7 degrees Celsius) or lower. The lower the temperature the more the likelihood of pipes bursting.
Pipes don’t burst immediately the temperature falls. They need to be exposed to a temperature of 20 degrees Fahrenheit or lower for 4 to 6 hours. Water pipes on an external wall will burst quicker than those that are inside the building.
If a certain water pipe is frozen but it is yet to burst, you will notice that the faucet connected to that pipe will be dry even when turned on. Thawing the ice in the water pipe will help prevent the pipe from bursting.
How to Prevent Your Water Pipes from Bursting
It is important that you protect your water pipes from freezing and busting during the winter. There are those things you should do before winter and those that you should do during winter.
Let us look at the several ways to protect your pipes from bursting starting with what you should do before winter kicks in. I will start with a quick answer and then the long guide.
- Insulation: Insulate exposed pipes, especially in cold climates, to protect them from freezing and expanding. Use pipe insulation sleeves or wrap pipes with heat tape.
- Proper Drainage: Ensure proper drainage around your property to prevent water from pooling near the foundation, which can lead to freezing and bursting.
- Maintain Heat: Keep your home adequately heated during cold weather, and open cabinet doors under sinks to allow warm air to reach pipes.
- Seal Leaks: Promptly fix any leaks in your plumbing system to prevent pressure buildup and potential pipe bursts.
- Disconnect Hoses: In freezing temperatures, disconnect and drain garden hoses to prevent water from freezing inside and causing damage to the connected pipes.
- Seal Cracks and Gaps: Seal gaps and cracks in your home’s exterior to prevent cold air from entering and affecting pipes located inside walls.
- Keep Faucets Dripping: On exceptionally cold nights, let faucets drip slightly to keep water flowing and reduce the risk of freezing.
- Add Pipe Heating Cables: Install pipe heating cables on vulnerable pipes to maintain a consistent temperature and prevent freezing.
- Regular Maintenance: Schedule routine plumbing inspections and maintenance to identify and address potential issues before they lead to pipe bursts.
- Emergency Shut-off: Familiarize yourself with the location of your home’s main water shut-off valve so you can quickly turn off water in case of an emergency.
And now the long guide:
1. Insulate the Pipes
External water pipes are usually more exposed to lower temperatures than those inside your house, which are warmer courtesy of your house’s insulation. It is therefore correct to say that in terms of water pipes freezing and bursting, the exposed pipes are the weakest link.
One thing you can do a few days before the pipes starts freezing is insulate them. Apart from those pipe running on an external wall, you also need to insulate the ones in unheated places like the garage or crawl space.
Not only does insulating water pipes prevent them from bursting but also aid in heat conservation. When you insulate the hot water pipes, you prevent heat loss to the surrounding which will ultimately lower your power consumption.
The most inexpensive form of pipe insulation is foam pipe sleeves. These sleeves are self-sealing and are absolutely easy to install. You don’t need to bring in a plumber for this.
The pipe sleeves are also available in different dimensions (short and long) to help install them fast. The best thing is that you can force them round a pipe elbow and you therefore will not have any part of the pipe exposed. Remember to order one which with the same diameter as your water pipe.
Another option for insulating exposed water pipes is through electrical wraps, also known as electrical heating tapes. The electrical tapes are wound along the length of the pipe and some come with a sensor. When temperature falls below the set level the pipe will be automatically heated, keeping the water inside fluid.
2. Seal all Cracks and Holes
In Physics, we learn that heat moves from a point of high concentration to one with a low concentration. That is why you get the heat/warmth from a heater even when you are not in direct contact with it.
This is the same thing that happens in your house. If you have a small opening or crack, heat will escape from your house and cold air will come in and start cooling your water pipes, especially those nearer to a wall.
That is not what you want to happen during winter. Before the temperatures fall massively, walk around your house looking for cracks especially where water pipes and electrical cords come in and out of your house.
Pay special attention to doors and windows as that is where the most cracks/opening all found. Seal them completely. I like to use caulk as I am sure that when it dries cold air cannot come in through them.
3. Keep the Heat On
One way of ensuring that the water pipes in your house are not freezing to the point of bursting is making sure that the air in the house is warm. And the way to keep the air in the house constantly warm is to keep the thermostat on at all times, especially when the temperatures falls below 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
It is also a good practice to keep the thermostat settings constant. Changing the temperature of the house abruptly will also have the same effect of the temperature of the water inside in the pipes.
It is especially important for people who are travelling out of town during winter to leave their thermostat on. This will significantly increase your water bills but I can assure you that the power bills are nothing compared to dealing with a burst pipe.
According to Forbes, the national average in insurance claims as a result of water damage from burst pipes is $10849. Apart from this cost, coming back to a flooded houses is not something you want to deal with.
Do not however set the thermostat too high. I prefer having it just above the freezing point of water. 55 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal.
4. Keep the Faucets Dripping
When water pipes bursts, it is usually because of the pressure created between the frozen part of the pipe and the closed faucet. With and open faucet, pressure inside the pipe is released continuously, preventing buildup and eventually pipe bursting. It also helps to keep the water fluid.
You however don’t need to have all faucets running. Check out which faucet is connected to a water pipe that is exposed to the outside temperature. That is the faucet that you need to turn on.
The good thing is that you don’t have to open the faucet fully. Just set it to a trickle. If you have a cold and hot water faucet open the both of them so that they are just dripping. In the case of single handle faucet, open the faucet to a trickle of warm water.
If you are in the house throughout the day, it is always a good idea to open all the faucets in the house periodically throughout the day and night for a few seconds. This is very good in easing out the pressure in the pipes and in the process avoid bursting. Do not forget to flush the toilets and run the shower as well.
If while checking the faucets you notice that there is one which has no water flowing through it, you have frozen pipe that is yet to burst. If it is a pipe you can easily access try to thaw the ice and have the faucet running gain.
5. Open Sink Cabinets
Water shut off valves to the kitchen and bathroom sink faucet are usually located under the sinks in the cabinet. That area can get very cold, especially it the water supply pipes are on an external wall as is usually the case.
Opening the cabinet doors allows warm air from the room to reach the water valves and hoses, preventing them from freezing and bursting.
You however don’t need to have the cabinets doors open at all times. Just open them for a few minutes and after warm air has circulated shut them. It is a good idea though to leave them open throughout the night.
For safety reasons for people with kids and pets, remove any chemical drain cleaners you might have stored in the cabinets.
6. Keep Interior Doors Open
Although almost all water pipes in your house are found in the kitchen and bathroom, it is important to make sure that the air flowing throughout your house has a constant temperature. To achieve this, keep you interior doors open.
I know most people cannot imagine having their bathroom door open even when not in use but it helps. Your kitchen will for instance produce a lot of heat when you are cooking. By having doors in your house open, you will help dissipate the heat everywhere in the house and prevent pipe bursts.
7. Drain Outdoor Faucets
Before the cold weather properly sets in, it is important for you to disconnect your hose from the outside faucet. Leaving the hose connected to the faucet can end up breaking it if the temperatures fall below 20 degrees, and cannot drain out through the bib,
After disconnecting the hose drain the faucet and shut it off. This is especially important if you are travelling. People drain the water in the house but forget the outside faucet. You can also go a step further and cover all the outside faucets with Styrofoam insulation kits.
8. Thaw Frozen Pipes
The easiest way to tell that a certain pipe has frozen is when you turn on the faucet connected to it but water won’t come out or just trickle. Thawing is the process of melting the ice so that it becomes fluid and flows freely preventing the pipe from bursting.
You should be a little careful since a frozen pipe may have already burst but since the water inside is frozen it is not flooding the house yet. If the pipe has a tear on it, start by turning off the water at the main shut off valve.
Here is how to thaw a frozen water pipe:
- Turn on the faucet. Leave the faucet connected to the pipe open. As soon as the ice starts to melt water will flow out through it. The initial flowing water will melt the rest of the ice.
- Heat the frozen section of the pipe. Inspect the pipe to determine which part of the pipe is frozen and apply heat on it. The choice of heat source will depend on what you have at the moment. An electric hair dryer or a portable space heater will work perfectly. You can as well wrap the pipe with towels or rags and pour boiling water on them. Do not use a heat source with an open flame.
- Stop heat application when maximum water pressure has been restored.
How to Fix a Burst Water Pipe
There are temporary and permanent solutions to a broken water pipe. The temporary solutions come in handy when you cannot get a plumber immediately or when you don’t yet have the money for it.
Here is how to fix a burst water pipe at home:
- Turn off the water to the house at the main shut off valve.
- Use a wrench/pliers to make the burst pipe as round as possible. If it has teared horizontally, try to make the gap as small as possible. Dry any water on the pipe.
- Wrap a self-bonding silicone tape round the burst pipe until you are sure you have a watertight seal.
- Turn on the water after a few minutes.
- For a permanent repair, head to the hardware store and buy a compression/quick-connect union. Be sure to measure the size of your pipe before the purchase.
- Cut off the broken section of the pipe.
- Insert the “slip” end of the union and slip it down to connect the other end of the pipe.
- Install the hold-down clips.
- If the damaged section of your pipe is quite long, you will need an extra section of the pipe and 2 quick-connect unions.
How to Prevent Underground Water Pipes from Bursting
One way of preventing underground water pipes from freezing and bursting is making sure that the pipes are buried deep enough in the ground. The extra depth gives the water pipes proper insulation from the surrounding cold weather.
An even better and sure way is using an electrical cable. This process is expensive but it works really well. This cable is wound round the water pipe and connected to thermostat so that it only comes on when temperature falls below a certain limit.
The cable is also designed in a way that it can give out different amounts of heat across its length. If for instant a certain point of the water pipe is shallow in the ground and therefore colder, the part of the cable in contact with it will put out more heat than in other parts of the pipe.
For more information on the above, check out this video from YouTube:
How to Keep Pipes from Freezing without Heat
If you are travelling for a while and want to make sure that you water pipes do not freeze and burst, there are a few things you can do if you do not have heat.
- Turn off the water to your house. The shut off valve is usually located in the basement or on external wall next to the water meter.
- Locate the lowest faucet in your house and turn it on to drain out all the water in the house. To help it drain quickly, open all the other faucets in your house and flush all toilets.
- If you have an air compressor use it to blow out excess water from the pipes.
- If you look under your kitchen/bathroom faucet, you will see a curved pipe called a P-trap. All the drains in your house have one. This traps still have water in them. Add antifreeze to all sinks, toilets, showers, tubs and washing machine drains.
- Turn off the furnace emergency switch then drain your furnace boiler. The valve is at the bottom of the boiler.
If you are not planning to leave your house, practice all the steps we have looked at above. Keep your garage door closed at all times and seal your crawl space to prevent cold air from coming in from outside.
If you have a fire place start it and dissipate heat through the house using fans. This is why it helps to have all your interior doors as well as cabinets open. Keep monitoring the temperature in your house.